It was a riddle wrapped within an enigma, a microcosm within a microcosm and then raised to some unfathomable power: The Flyers, trailing 3-0 in the series, brought it back to 3-3; the Flyers, tailing Game 7 by 3-0, also brought it back to 3-3.
We have never seen anything like it. We likely never will again.
And this is how it ended:
Simon Gagne, who started the series with a broken toe, who scored the game-winner in overtime in Game 4, scored a power play goal at 12:52 of the third period and gave the Flyers the last chapter of their miracle. Philadelphia history will record the final score as Flyers 4, Bruins 3 -- but the numbers, cold and raw, cannot possibly do this justice. Boston history will record the key penalty that gave the Flyers their power play: too many men on the ice. It will only add to the Bruins' agony.
There were two truths early: the Bruins were energized and very anxious to avoid a historically-ignominious ending to their season, and Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton was finally a human being. The Bruins overwhelmed the Flyers with their skating and Leighton really appeared to have trouble even locating pucks being shot at him.
The Bruins' first two goals were on power plays, by Michael Ryder and Milan Lucic. The third goal also belonged to Lucic, unassisted, swooping in on a 2-on-1 after an unfortunate pinch by Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen. TD Garden was appropriately ecstatic at that point and the Flyers looked appropriately dead, finally; nice effort, thanks for coming.
At which point, two things happened: Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, master of the timeout, called one and lectured the fellas. And then the youngest fella responded. James van Riemsdyk, silent all spring, suddenly came alive. He scored the first Flyers' goal, shoveling a short-side dribbler past the Bruins' Tuukka Rask. It was 3-1 and that is how the first period ended. The Flyers had a heartbeat after all.
Then, in the second, the Flyers absolutely overwhelmed the Bruins. Boston didn't have a shot for more than 10 minutes, and the Flyers worked quickly to silence the crowd and get back even. Again. The second goal belonged to Scott Hartnell, who backhanded a rebound top-shelf. Then, at 8:49 of the second, Danny Briere scored on a wraparound.
They had pulled it together, somehow, some way, again.
The night's big controversy came at 14:46 of the second, on a wild scramble in front of Rask. Referee Kelly Sutherland, climbing on the back of the net in an attempt to see the puck, ultimately ruled that it was no goal. A lengthy reply review by the NHL's video room in Toronto came to the same conclusion. But one angle does exist -- at least in the minds of lots of Philadelphians -- which suggested the puck might have been over the line.
It is hard to know. But it will always be a part of the legend.
On and on it went, tense beyond all normality. Chris Pronger hit a post for the Flyers at about 5:25 of the third period and the red light flashed for a second. Lucic hit a post for the Bruins at about 11:00. Back and forth it went, until Gagne.